India rejects blame as Nepal floods affect 50,000August 20th, 2008 - 1:30 pm ICT by IANS
Kathmandu, Aug 20 (IANS) As a breach in a river barrage turned over 50,000 people homeless in southern Nepal and threatened thousands more in neighbouring India, the Indian government rejected allegations that its negligence had caused the disaster, putting the blame squarely back on Nepal.A spate of reports in the Nepali media blamed the Nitish Kumar government of India’s Bihar state for not repairing the weakening barrage on the Saptakoshi river and causing the devastating flood. Stung by the reports, the Indian embassy here issued a statement, saying that though an Indian team had rushed to the affected Sunsari district in Nepal prior to the floods, it was prevented from reaching the site.
“The concerns of the Indian technical team and the gravity of the situation were conveyed by the embassy to the local administration and central authorities and their cooperation and support was sought,” the statement said.
“The Indian technical team mobilised required resources and has remained in readiness to carry out the required work to strengthen the embankment. But it was prevented from reaching the site.
“As a consequence, thousands of people in Nepal and India have been forced to suffer a calamity that could have been avoided.”
India says that despite repeated requests and pleas by the technical team for urgent local support, the local administration turned a deaf ear, causing work to be “frequently hindered, disrupted and delayed”.
Incessant rain since last week caused two spurs supporting the Koshi barrage to collapse and triggered massive inundation in Sunsari as well as in Bihar.
As Nepal’s local administration and the army pressed helicopters, boats and even elephants into rescue operations, over 50,000 had become homeless, and thousands marooned by swirling waters.
People awaited rescue atop trees, grim-faced farmers waded through shoulder-deep water with children and goats strapped to their backs searching for safe areas.
Faced with his first crisis since assuming office Monday, Nepal’s first Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal or Prachanda readied to visit the affected district Wednesday. He has already ordered the disbursement of NRS 20 million from the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund to provide immediate relief to the victims.
On the fourth day of the disaster, hunger and disease stalked the survivors.
Nepal’s water resources ministry sought India’s help to repair the barrage. A meeting between the officials of the two countries is expected to be held in Biratnagar town later Wednesday.
An Indian delegation visiting Nepal said Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has expressed his desire to visit the Himalayan republic and discuss water-related issues with Prachanda.
Sharad Yadav, leader of India’s Janata Dal-United party and president of the Indo-Nepal Friendship Forum also said that both countries needed to sit together to find a permanent solution to the havoc caused by the Saptakoshi river every year.